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  • Verb Classification in Mayrinax Atayal1
  • Lillian M. Huang

Verb classes are examined in Mayrinax Atayal, an Austronesian language spoken in Taiwan, based on certain semantic, morphological, and syntactic properties. Focus markers; negative, imperative, and causative constructions; the tense/aspect/mood system of the language; and a dimension of greater-lesser dynamicity (or stativity) are all investigated. The primary distinction between dynamic and stative verbs is supported by the different behaviors of verbs in the various constructions. Because degrees of dynamicity/stativity of Mayrinax verbs are relative rather than absolute, a continuum is proposed with dynamic verbs and stative verbs appearing at the two extremes.

1. Introduction.

Atayal is one of the more widespread of the Formosan languages, ranging from Ilan Prefecture in the northeast of Taiwan to Taipei and Taoyuan Prefectures in the north, and southward through Hsinchu, Miaoli, and Tai-chung Prefectures to Nantou in the central portion of the island. It consists of two major subgroups, namely, Squliq and Cʔuliʔ, the latter of which is considered as being more conservative. The dialectal variant examined in this paper is that of Mayrinax, a Cʔuliʔ dialect spoken in Chinshui Village, Taian Hsiang, Miaoli Prefecture. Of all Formosan languages and dialects, Mayrinax is one of the only two known dialects that show certain distinctions between the male and female forms of speech; the other dialect is Paʔkualiʔ (cf. Li 1980). While such distinctions between the male and female speech forms are still preserved in the older generation's speech, younger speakers tend to ignore these differences and mix the two forms in their speech.

This paper attempts to examine verb classes in Mayrinax Atayal. To our knowledge, there are four studies2 that deal primarily with verb classification in certain Formosan languages; namely, Jeng (1981) on Yami, Chen (1987) and Y. Huang (1988) on Amis, and Tseng (1989) on Squliq Atayal. Most of these studies rely heavily on [End Page 364] syntax—case relations, case forms, and distributional properties. In this paper, we attempt to classify Mayrinax verbs on the basis of certain semantic, morphological, and syntactic properties. We first consider how verbs are formed in the language. We then show a primary classification for them, namely, dynamic verbs versus stative verbs.3 While dynamic verbs designate actions, processes, or situations, stative verbs tend to denote properties, states, or resultant states. We attempt to justify such a classification by examining the semantic dynamicity (or stativity) of Mayrinax verbs, and the morphosyntactic behaviors they exhibit in the focus system,4 in negative, imperative, and causative constructions, and in the tense/aspect/mood system.

2. Verb Formation in Mayrinax Atayal.

Languages may have various ways of forming verbs. In this section, we will investigate how verbs are formed in Mayrinax Atayal. The language has words that are inherent verbs. As pointed out by Huang (1995), agent-focus verbs appearing in affirmative imperatives are considered to be basic forms5 that are also used in agent-focus realis negative declaratives. These verbs can be further affixed with varying focus markers, tense/aspect/mood markers, and/or causative markers, with or without overt affixation, depending on, among other factors, which argument is in focus (e.g., agent, patient, location, instrument, or beneficiary) and what syntactic construction a given verb is being used in (e.g., declarative or imperative, affirmative or negative). In addition to the above-mentioned inherent verbs and their derivatives affixed with different focus, tense/aspect/mood, and/or causative markers, Mayrinax Atayal has verbs whose basic forms are derived from nouns affixed with either a causative marker, a stative marker, a preposition, or a zero-morpheme focus marker,6 as exemplified in (1-4).7

  1. 1. Verbs derived from nouns affixed with the causative marker pa-:

    1. a. pa- + qaβuβiŋ 'hat' ⇒ paqaβuβiŋ 'Put on a hat! (AF.IMP)'8

    2. b. pa- + tunaq 'sputum' ⇒ ptunaq 'Spit! (AF.IMP)' [End Page 365]

    3. c. pa- + si- + ŋaŋay 'saliva' ⇒ psiŋaŋay 'salivate (AF.NEG)'9

    4. d. pa- + si- + βuq 'sap; juice' ⇒ psiβuq 'juice; suck (AF.NEG)'

  2. 2. Verbs derived from nouns affixed with the stative marker ka-:10

    1. a. ka- + naβakis 'old man' ⇒ kana...